Ellen Pompeo is one of the best-known and most loved stars on television today. Her role as Dr. Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy has turned her into an icon. Fans all over the world love the show and want to know more about the person who embodies Dr. Grey.
Pompeo has always been very private about her personal life. As she’s reportedly said, according to TV Guide, "It’s not hard to stay out of the press if you don’t want it." But over time, she has opened up a little bit about her career, her family, and what she wants for her future.
Pompeo rose from humble beginnings to become the star of the ultra popular show Grey’s Anatomy and one of the highest-paid female TV stars. Her net worth, according to Us Weekly, is around $85 million. But her road to stellar success was challenging, as she began her journey armed with only talent and determination.
Ellen Pompeo always wanted to act
Ellen Pompeo always wanted to act, but, as she told Allure, she was much too shy to get started in such a career. "I was very sad and introverted as a child, and I would never, ever have had the confidence or the extroverted nature to be in a school play," she said. But one day when she was very young, an aunt and uncle In New York took her to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York City (via E! News), and she became inspired: "Afterward, I stood up and said, ‘That’s what I want to be. They’re alive. That’s what I want to do.’"
While she would, of course, later find success in the world of entertainment, it wasn’t easy, and her early life didn’t make it any easier. As she told People, "Where I come from, you don’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m going to become an actor.’"
Ellen Pompeo grew up in Massachusetts
Ellen Pompeo was the youngest of six children in an Italian-Irish family, raised in the Boston suburb Everett. Pompeo was 5 years old her mother died, and she was raised by her father, relatives, and babysitters, according to an interview with Playboy (via E! News). But no matter how chaotic her childhood may have been, Pompeo remained "fiery." As Pompeo said in an interview with Good Housekeeping, "You can’t get out of where I come from if you’re a wallflower."
Unfortunately, life was tough for Pompeo. "I was pathetically insecure," she shared, describing her youth. "I didn’t have a mother to tell me how amazing I was."
Luckily, Pompeo had a father who encouraged her to follow her dreams. To Playboy, she said her father "always told me you can do anything you want to do." And as evidenced by her successful career, Pompeo proved him right.
Ellen Pompeo moved to New York
Ellen Pompeo left her home in Massachusetts after high school and a short time at college and headed for Miami, working there tending bar. In an interview with Playboy (via E! News), she shared, "I wouldn’t say I was a good drink maker, but I was a very good hustler." Pompeo said she would make customers wait for their drinks until they put enough money down on the bar. If customers "put money down on the bar and it wasn’t enough," she said, "I’d go wait on someone else who was giving me enough money." She revealed she’d sometimes make guests wait for their drinks until she saw $20.
Soon enough, she moved to New York City, where opportunity and talent fortuitously collided. While working as a bartender at the Soho Kitchen in New York in 1995, according to the Los Angeles Times, a casting director spoke to her about being in commercials. She called the casting director the next day and was sent to audition for three commercials, getting each and every one, including L’Oreal. The L’Oreal ad, said Pompeo, "was actually really cute," noting, "They dyed my hair red." She added, "And then I booked like 20 more commercials after that because I had this great red hair."
Ellen Pompeo landed a role in the movie In the Weeds
Ellen Pompeo started snagging credited small screen roles, one being on the television drama Law & Order in 1999. She also played the part of "Upset Girl" in the 2000 movie Coming Soon, which featured Ryan Reynolds and Mia Farrow, and she landed parts in Strangers with Candy and The Job.
In 2000, she appeared as Martha in the indie film In the Weeds, acting alongside Pretty in Pink star Molly Ringwald. The film, which is about the personal and professional problems of the wait staff at a busy restaurant, got some attention. Pompeo played "the ever-eager naif," as described Variety. Of the film, Variety shared, "[Director Michael] Rauch manages to give every member of the restaurant staff — even the busboys — a moment to shine, and his actors pay him back with nuanced, funny performances."
Ellen Pompeo was getting noticed as an actress!
Ellen Pompeo continued finding success on the big screen
Ellen Pompeo successfully auditioned for a role in the 2002 film Moonlight Mile, playing the part of Bertie, a postal clerk who eventually connects with Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. Film critic Roger Ebert was very impressed by her in the film. Of her performance, he said in a review, "Pompeo, a newcomer, plays Bertie with a kind of scary charisma that cannot be written, only felt. … She is so vulnerable in this movie…"
Pompeo, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter, garnered serious interest from major filmmakers. She was cast in Catch Me if You Can, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, and played flight attendant Marci. More film roles followed, including a part in the 2003 film Daredevil and the comedy Old School. Notably she also appeared on an episode of Friends.
But, according to THR, "by 2004, her movie career had stalled and she was perilously close to broke."
Ellen Pompeo starred in Grey’s Anatomy
At first, Ellen Pompeo had no interest in being on Grey’s Anatomy. She told The Hollywood Reporter, "I was like, ‘I’m not going to be stuck on a medical show for five years.’" But at the urging of her agent, who told her not to worry since the pilot would likely not get picked up and that she should take the job just to make some money, she auditioned, according to Good Housekeeping.
Of course, the show went beyond being picked up — it became a huge hit and a favorite of many. It wasn’t long before Grey’s Anatomy beat out ER as the longest-running primetime medical drama, as reported by E! News. Interestingly, in the beginning, Pompeo was surprised at the show’s popularity. She told Allure, "When I did the pilot, I thought, ‘I can’t stand medical shows. This will never get on.’"
Ellen Pompeo got engaged
In 2006, Ellen Pompeo got engaged to record producer Chris Ivery. He proposed to Pompeo on her 37th birthday after having breakfast at their home, as reported by the Associated Press. He presented her with a beautiful engagement ring with a "3.5-carat emerald-cut diamond in a platinum setting," according to People. The two had been dating for three years at that point, after having first built a friendship for about six months. "We were friends for six months; then one night she just looked different to me," Ivery previously explained to the magazine.
Notably, the two had grown up in the Boston area a short distance apart from one another, though they didn’t meet until later in life. "We were six degrees our whole lives, so I feel like we were sort of meant to be," Pompeo explained to People. "We’ll get married eventually, secretly." And, eventually, they did.
Ellen Pompeo got married in New York City
Ellen Pompeo married record producer Chris Ivery in New York City at City Hall, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiating. According to People, who cited a report from Boston Globe, Chris Ivery and Michael Bloomberg have mutual friends and both grew up in the Boston area. According to Country Living, the wedding was so private that no guests were invited and First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris was the only witness.
On Live with Kelly and Ryan, Pompeo talked about how she and Ivery "flew out on a red-eye Thursday night," adding, "Friday morning, woke up, went to City Hall, had the wedding really quick, and then we went to Lupa for lunch after." The couple went to a Knicks game that weekend, as both Pompeo and Ivery are basketball fans.
Pompeo had previously shared with Los Angeles Confidential Magazine that they wanted to avoid having a big wedding because "we want one thing to ourselves".
Ellen Pompeo started her own production company
By 2011, Ellen Pompeo started her own production company, Calamity Jane, as reported by Deadline, and she became more involved as a producer. During a 2014 panel discussion hosted by BuzzFeed, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter, she said, "I definitely don’t have a strong desire to act after Grey’s; I definitely feel myself transitioning." She continued that she simply didn’t always want to work for others. And, as she told The Hollywood Reporter, she "enjoys" producing.
Still, Pompeo is grateful for all that acting has done for her. In BuzzFeed‘s panel discussion, she shared, "Maybe part of my personality is I feel like I have something to prove sometimes. And with acting, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove anymore…" Noting Grey’s success in other countries and the amount of fans it’s secured, she noted that she wanted to "challenge [herself]."
Ellen Pompeo appeared in a Taylor Swift music video
Ellen Pompeo plays Luna in the Taylor Swift video for "Bad Blood." But Pompeo pointed out that she was not a member of Swift’s "squad." As reported by Entertainment Tonight, Pompeo said on Jimmy Kimmel Live that it’s not like she and Swift are best friends. "Her people called my people and said, ‘Would you like to be in this video?’ the ABC star recalled. "And I said, ‘Oh my god, of course, how fun! Is there an old lady section? I’m down.’" Bad-ass Luna is hardly an old lady!
We wonder if Pompeo’s seen the music video, as she’s opened up to People about not liking to see herself age on TV. "To be honest, it’s the toughest part of my job," she said. "But as uncomfortable as watching myself age is, I don’t think focusing on physical beauty is necessarily the best thing for your mind. It’s a natural thing that we all do, but I don’t think it’s the healthiest thing. … Everyone ages, and it’s okay."
Ellen Pompeo made her directorial debut on Grey’s Anatomy
According to The Hollywood Reporter, executive producer Debbie Allen was behind Ellen Pompeo directing the 2017 episode "Be Still, My Soul," marking the actress’ directorial debut, as noted by Variety. As THR reported, Pompeo wasn’t at all keen on directing at first. "I have a new baby at home, two other adorable little kids, a husband, three dogs, four chickens and a fish," she said, "and I told Debbie that I couldn’t possibly be here another minute than I already am." But Pompeo eventually came around to the idea, later directing another episode, "Old Scars, Future Hearts."
With her work on Grey’s Anatomy, Pompeo is passing the feeling of empowerment onto her daughter, who can visit the show’s set and "see fierce females in charge," she told in The Hollywood Reporter. Pompeo added, "She loves to sit in the director’s chair with the headphones on yelling ‘Action’ and ‘Cut.’ She’s growing up in an environment where she’s completely comfortable with power. I don’t know any other environment in Hollywood where I could provide that for her."
Ellen Pompeo has enjoyed a happy home life with her husband and kids
Ellen Pompeo and Chris Ivery are the parents of three children — Stella Luna, born in 2009; Sienna May, born in 2014; and Eli Christopher, born in 2016, according to Country Living. And on Pompeo’s Instagram bio, she makes clear what her role at home is: "Not a real doctor, but a really good fake one. Personal Assistant to Stella Luna, Sienna May, and Eli Christopher."
When Pompeo was pregnant during filming for Grey’s Anatomy in 2009, and her character, Meredith Grey, wasn’t supposed to be pregnant, she was filmed mostly from the neck up. To accommodate for her maternity leave, a storyline was written that involved her recuperating from donating part of her liver to her estranged father (via Us Weekly).
Regarding her long-lasting marriage with Ivery, Pompeo explained that the secret to a strong marriage is acceptance. In Us Weekly’s podcast In Case You Missed Us, she shared, "Just don’t try to change people," adding, "They are who they are, and they were fine when you married them, so don’t expect them to change."
Ellen Pompeo is not afraid to go make-up free sometimes
As she told Into the Gloss, Ellen Pompeo usually doesn’t wear makeup when she is not working in character on the set of Grey’s Anatomy. "I get my makeup done at work, but when I’m not working I never wear makeup, unless I have to go out," she said. "If I go out, I’ll maybe do a pop of a lip, or I just do a smoky black eye and little Physicians Formula Mascara because it’s organic." Who needs a lot of makeup when you have a natural glow!
She further noted that she tends to avoid using products like eyeshadow and blush, and people at work help her with "an organic spray tan sometimes." She also gets her eyelashes tinted darker, which is "a huge thing because that’s less prep time for me in the morning at work," as she told Into the Gloss.
Ellen Pompeo signed a deal to do make $20 million a year
To The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, Ellen Pompeo spoke out about having the courage and conviction to ask for what you deserve. "I’m 48 now, so I’ve finally gotten to the place where I’m OK asking for what I deserve, which is something that comes only with age." She noted that, while people may not find her as "relevant" anymore after being one show for a long time, it takes skill to continuously stay on top of your acting game in one role. "But the truth is, anybody can be good on a show season one and two," she said. "Can you be good 14 years later?"
She also highlighted how men may not have any issues requesting more money for their work, but women often do. "A guy wouldn’t have any problem asking for $600,000 an episode. And as women, we’re like, "Oh, can I ask for that? Is that OK?" As it turned out, it was definitely OK.
Towards the end of 2017, she signed a deal with Grey’s Anatomy that made her one of television’s highest-paid actresses and that secured earnings of $20 million per year.
Ellen Pompeo wants to use Grey’s Anatomy to shine a light on certain issues
Given that Ellen Pompeo is the beating heart of Grey’s Anatomy, you may be tempted to think that she’s content to just show up for work, get it done, and leave. But that’s not the case, as Pompeo is passionate about using the show as a teaching tool, working closely with showrunner Krista Vernoff to do so. "We were able to have a story line that dealt with a young, undocumented child not having health insurance," she explained in an interview with Variety in 2020, "[and that] was a story line that Krista and I felt really grateful to be able to tell."
Pompeo knows that making statements like that can be controversial, but that just doesn’t concern her. "I know everybody’s not so crazy about it sometimes — and whatever, they don’t have to watch if they’re not crazy about it," she continued. "But to touch on political issues like this is important." Way to use your powers for good, Ellen!